Review: Three Parts Dead

July 31, 2017 Book Reviews, Reviews Comments (2) 333

Book cover to Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

One of the reasons I love the speculative fiction is the constant addition of new twists and ideas from other genres. Nowadays you can get books sci-fi westerns, or historical fiction fantasy to sate your every niche genre desire. Some of these combinations make more sense to me than others. If you had asked me if I would enjoy a fantasy + legal thriller combo, I may have laughed in your face. The last legal thriller I read was a Reader’s Digest John Grishman novel I found at my grandparents’ house. It was also the last legal thriller I remember reading. However, In Three Parts Dead, Max Gladstone manages this genre amalgamation in superb form, offering a fresh twist to habitual fantasy readers and a gateway to fantasy for legal thrillers fans.

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Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

July 28, 2017 Book Reviews, Reviews Comments (0) 814

Cover image of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. Cover depicts a dark forest landscape, with a single thatched hut. A thin woman stands outside.

The Bear and the Nightingale

In the past few years I’ve moved more to reading more comic books than novels. When I do read a book, it happens to be something classic I’ve read at least once before. This has to do with a general feeling that I’ve lost touch with my favorite genres (sci-fi/fantasy) and I no longer recognize names of up-and-coming authors. The only way to remedy this is to read more, so I was happy to come across a recommendation for The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

Full disclosure: the recommendation came from a Verge article titled “8 Stories to Read while you wait for the next season of American Gods. That should give you an inkling as to the subject matter of the book — fantasy and myth! The Bear and the Nightingale follows Vasilia, a Russian girl, through childhood and early adulthood as she navigates between the living fairy tales in only she can see and the Christianity that dominates her village. I’m going to do my best to stay away from spoilers in this review, so I’m going to speak more generally about some of the aspects I appreciated.

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Borderlands 2: My Cel-Shaded Romp through Pandora

September 21, 2012 Reviews, Video Game Reviews Comments (0) 88

At about 11:50 p.m. Monday night I was standing outside GameStop waiting for my turn to pick up my pre-order of Borderlands 2. Sadly, I didn’t get the loot chest…although I was tempted to tackle a guy leaving the store with one. Being a vault hunter has taught me to fight people for loot, and I was definitely tempted to fight that guy for his…especially after the people ahead of me in line starting smoking. Once that happened I was about ready to take just the garden variety copy of Borderlands 2 from someone just so I could fill my lungs with fresh air. Luckily my group was called quickly and I got my hands on my copy and sped home to play. Full disclosure: I haven’t finished playing through Borderlands 2 yet. Between school, teaching and well school…I’ve only been able to get to level 14 so far. If you haven’t noticed me posting recently (or commenting…or responding to comments) it’s most likely because graduate school is kicking my ass right now. But I have been able to play Borderlands 2 enough to get a feel for the game, and to fall in love with Pandora all over again.

So instead of a review, I’m just going to list some details of the game that I have fallen in love with, and I’m fully expecting all of you who are currently playing to share some of your favorite things as well. So here’s a list of things, in no particular order, that are great about Borderlands 2.

1.) The things Bandits yell as they are dying.

Bandits have always been a combination between absurd, hilarious and downright disturbing. The fact that I can shoot a Goliath’s head off, and it might grow back is terrifying and bizarre. In addition to the bizarre way they die sometimes, Bandits also have some hilarious lines in the process. For instance, when I shot one of the little guys in the face with my shotgun, he yelled “Yoooouuuu suuuccck” as he started running and I shot him a second time. It’s good to know that some insults just don’t go out of style no matter what planet you’re on.

2.) I love the word “minion”

The fact that Claptrap calls your character a minion throughout the game makes me giggle. I own the game Overlord for the Wii, and one of my favorite parts of that game was getting to control minions and having them call me overlord the entire game. Claptrap calling me a minion is hilarious for so many reasons, but mainly just because I could blow him out of existence. It’s just so darn cute when he tries to boss me around!

3.) Lilith

To avoid spoilers, let me just sum up this point in one word: cult.

4.) The Weapons!

So, I am playing as the Gunzerking and I use a lot of shotguns. My favorite shotgun has a passive that whenever I reload, I throw the shotgun like a grenade (it explodes and everything) and then magically another gun appears in my hands. I’m not sure who thought of that. It’s infeasibility is ridiculous. But it is just so much fun to do, and it has saved my life on many occasions. In general the weapons are creative, and some of them look pretty cool. I also really enjoy some of the grenade mods. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun throwing grenades at people in games.

5.) Salvador

I am currently playing as Salvador the Gunzerking. I haven’t had the time to try out the other classes yet (although I can’t wait to try out Zero), but I am definitely in love with Salvador. What I didn’t realize about him until I was playing co-op was that he is much shorter than all the other characters. This is reflected in game when sometimes you can’t see all the way into a box because you’re just not tall enough. I really like the consistency between his character design and the way that works in-game.

6.) Finally, the co-op is amazing. I can play split-screen with my husband and still hook up with some other friends online. It’s super easy to invite people, join games, etc and you typically get better loot! Here’s a video of some people playing co-op, just in case you were wondering how it worked.

I may do a longer review when I get further in the game, but you should probably stop reading my blog now start racing to your favorite gaming store and to purchase the game.

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Review: Square Enix's Drakerider

September 7, 2012 Reviews, Video Game Reviews Comments (0) 63

Drakerider, an iOS exclusive game from Square Enix dropped today. Like the recent iOS port of The World Ends With You, the game is split up into chapters. The first’s one free, you’ll just have to pay for the other four…which will end up costing you $20.99 for all five additional chapters, or 6.99 for individual chapters. I downloaded the first chapter to play this morning, prmarily intrigued by any game that would let me ride around on a dragon. I mean, what’s up with all those other Square Enix JRPGs that make you walk everywhere? Shouldn’t your entire party have insanely overdeveloped legs by that point? Especially considering how often I made them run places. In Drakerider though you don’t have to worry about that. Like the title suggests, the main character Aran gets to ride a big ole dragon named Eckhardt.

Story:As dragons go, Eckhardt is kinda a dick. Aran has to concentrate at all times to control Eckhardt or else the dragon will go on a murdering rampage, killing his master first. Sadly, not everyone in the game world of Igraine gets to ride dragons. This special power was given to Aran by (you guessed it) a “mysterious girl” dressed in white/pink. She bestows this power on Aran after he rescues her from a dungeon and defeats a monster that is known as a Dread. The Dread are the big baddies in this game, they’re invading Igraine and it is up to the dragaliers (BAMF dragon riders) to defeat them. The catch is, that there’s actually only one dragon. Eckhardt takes a slightly different form with slightly different powers depending on the person who is riding him. Under the mysterious girl’s supervision, Aran is supposed to defeat Dread demons one by one. That is the basic plot, which is fairly straightforward for a JRPG. If that bothers you, don’t worry! This is a spoiler free review, but there are a few twists and turns just in the first chapter for you! Overall the initial story, though definitely full of JRPG tropes, was fairly compelling. It definitely left me looking at my bank account to see if I could afford to buy a $20.99 game for my iPhone.

Behold! The Mysterious Girl!

Gameplay: What I liked best about the game was the combat system. I can best describe it as turn-based esque. Rather than picking a skill from a menu, you control the dragon Eckhardt with chains. By sliding the chains left and right on your iOS device, you’ll be placing the chain in a different color quadrant. Each color quadrant has abilities and attacks already assigned to it. You can disable abilities if you don’t want to waste Crystals (The game’s version of MP), but typically it doesn’t matter too much. For example, the ability “healing” is assigned to the blue quadrant. If you place the chains in the blue area then Eckhardt and Aran will automatically heal if they’re HP is low, or attack if you have close to full HP. You have to quickly move the chain before your attack bar fills up, whatever quadrant the chain is in when the attack bar is full is the ability that is going to be used for that turn. I think it is a fun way to incorporate the touch screen while still relying on a fairly familiar style of JRPG combat. It’s not too hard to get the hang of, and I think its a bit more fun than scrolling through menus for attacks.

Leveling up incorporates a system similar to the Crystarium from FFXIII. Aran starts out with certain abilities, and there are clear paths that you can choose to go with. It’s less complicated than the Crystarium, but still allows you enough options to develop Aran to fit your play style. These abilities are also bought with Crystals, so it is actually not always advisory to buy multiple abilities before a boss fight (learned that the hard way). You need Crystals to fuel your attacks, and if you run out during a boss fight, you are basically completely screwed.

World: When you aren’t in a specific location, you fly around the world of Igraine on the back of your dragon. Instead of being an open world, locations spring up linearly after you’ve completed certain missions. If you’re buying this game wanting to use Eckhardt like a Golden Chocobo to explore all the nooks and crannies of Igraine, it’s not going to happen. You can only go to locations that are available to you…or at least that was my experience with the first chapter. There’s always the possibility that  your options might be expanded in later chapters, although this is an iOS game so the world is most likely not going to be quiet as developed as you may be used to in a typical Square Enix RPG. This wasn’t a negative for me, but it might be for all of you crazy explorers out there.

Aran..the hero!

Overall:It took me 2-3 hours to play through the first chapter on and off  and I enjoyed playing it most of that time (except for the 20 minutes where I kept dying to the second boss because I needed to go power level). Again, the story was compelling even though the Mysterious Girl seemed way too young to be as naked as she was, and she was a completely passive character (If she had been playable, she would have suffered from White Mage syndrome). Aran fit the stereotype of rogue turned hero, although he was much more Titus than Cloud. Overall, my biggest problem with the game is the pricing. As you can see here and here (and many many other places on the web) no one has really been able to get behind Square Enix’s pricing of their recent iOS games. $30 for Final Fantasy Dimensions, $20.99 for The World Ends With You and now $20.99 for Drakerider seems a bit extreme to most people.

To me this signals that Square Enix is treating the iOS and Android platform as a legitimate gaming console rather than a place to make a quick buck. With most iOS and Android games relying on the  micro transactions model, do you think the high pricing of these games is a new model to counteract that? Would you rather pay $20.99 up front than realize at the end of a game that all of your small $0.99 purchases added up to over $20? I’m honestly not sure it would be possible to change JRPGs to facilitate a micro-transaction system without detrimentally changing the narrative and gameplay that makes those games JRPGs. I’m pretty upset that the whole Chapter format forced me out of the story because I need to pay for more chapters. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I needed to buy some in-game currency to extend/enhance my gameplay. Between the two, I would much rather pay $20 for about 20 hours of a good JRPG than see games like this switch to a micro transaction model. The price is still cheaper than most Wii and DS games (where all the good JRPGs come out nowadays)
and the game utilized the touchscreen well to update turn-based combat a bit. If you need a JRPG fix, I would definitely recommend this game,  but I do understand the price may be a barrier to some, especially people that are broke like me!

If you’d like to see more of the game before making a decision, here’s a video walkthrough of the first chapter. Clearly, there are going to be spoilers.

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Review: Pokemon Conquest

August 3, 2012 Reviews, Video Game Reviews Comments (0) 60

Yay Pokemon

So, Pokemon conquest has been out for a little over a month now. As a Pokemon fanatic (I primarily use Tumblr to look at adorable pokemon pictures all day) I pre-ordered this game well in advance and devoured it the second I picked it up from GameStop.  For those of you who may have been iffy about the whole Pokemon + Nobunga’s ambition cross-over, you were right to follow your instincts.

Story: The story of Pokemon Conquest goes like this: you are a warlord, you need to beat all the other warlords in battle and bring all of Ransei under your command to before Nobungas, the evil warlord does. Why must you do this? Because it has been foretold that once a warlord unites all the kingdoms under one command, the creator of Ransei (spoilers: It’s Arceus) will appear and bend to the Warlord’s will. Nobunga wants to use Arceus to destroy Ransei, while your Warlord strives to stop this. Compared to the Pokemon plot of “catch all the pokemon and beat the elite four” this Pokemon Conquest story should win a nobel prize. However, like most video games, the story is simplistic, but serviceable.


The main problem I had with the story was the way it abruptly ended. Going into the last fight, you should be aware that it is the last fight. However, once you defeat Nobunga, the game is over. You don’t get to continue playing as your Warlord and any assets you had (warriors and pokemon) disappear. I expected to be able to keep playing in Ransei with my warlord while I continued collecting pokemon and warriors. This is not the case. Instead, there are several end-game quests, where you typically control one of the Warlords you fought during the main storyline. The quests can be fun, but they get repetitive. If you complete all of them, then “The Two Heroes of Ransei” episode is unlocked where you get to play as your hero again. As much as I wanted to go back and play as my hero, playing through all of those episodes just wasn’t worth it.

Gameplay: Battle system in Pokemon Conquest resembles that of previous strategy JRPGs like Final Fantasy: Tactics. You can control up to six pokemon on a grid. Like a traditional pokemon game, these battles take type strengths and weaknesses into consideration. Psychic can’t hurt Dark, Dragon falls to Ice, etc. The majority of kingdoms favor a specific type of pokemon, reminiscent of Pokemon Gyms, which makes larger battles easy to prepare for. In these battles it is necessary to micromanage your pokemon and think beyond action/reaction to play well. You must carefully think about pokemon types and the scope of your pokemons attacks. Some pokemon can only attack one square ahead of them, while others can attack through three squares. If you like strategy games, than you’ll probably enjoy this type of combat. The merging of Pokemon with Nobunga’s Amibition worked particularly well here to create a unique and enjoyable rendition of strategy RPG combat. Image

While the majority of the game is focused on combat and conquering new kingdoms, there is a secondary emphasis on collecting warriors and pokemon. Within each kingdom there are locations where you and your warriors can travel to fight wild pokemon and warriors unattached to a kingdom. You must defeat “wild” warriors within three turns to be able to draft them to your side, although with certain warriors there are other conditions that must be met. To obtain pokemon, a warrior must link with themWarriors can link with any pokemon, but most warriors favor specific types and have one pokemon that they form a perfect link with. The higher the link the stronger a pokemon can become. For instance if my link with a pokemon can only go up to 50%, then once 50% has been reached, the pokemon stops growing. Perfect links are are links with the potential to get to 100% which theoretically means those pokemon should be pretty powerful. If a warrior has a 100% link with a venipede, it still doesn’t work out that way.

There are over 200 pokemon to collect, and almost as many warriors to recruit. If you really want to catch ’em all, then you have a patience for tediousness only rivaled by John Goodman:


Luckily, the episodes at the end of the game give you a lot of opportunity to obtain pokemon and trainers, and collecting them all is much more doable than getting 649 pokemon (number will probably change soon with Pokemone Black and White 2 coming out so soon).

Gender/Race/Sexuality: You get to choose which sex you want to be at the beginning of the game, hooray! Regardless of what you pick, your warlord gets saddled with a loveable warrior named Oichi and her jigglypuff. Judging from the fact that the first woman you meet owns a jigglypuff, I feel justified in saying that there are some slight problems with the depiction of women in this game. Most of the women are either weak like Oichi, or very sexy. There are some depictions that are fine, but considering OIchi is the first woman you meet in the game, and the one you spent the most time with (you have to put up with her through the entire main storyline) I find the game’s representation of women to be kinda sexist. You could make the argument for historical realism since the game is in a feudal setting, but its that involves pokemon which invalidates all arguments of realism. There isn’t any diversity in terms of race, all the characters are the fun white/japanese hybrids that we typically see in JRPGs. As I mentioned in a previous post, Japan has a homogenous population and typically produces games with homogenous populations. LEARN TO DIVERSIFY!

To Play or Not To Play: If you’re a huge fan of Pokemon or you like strategy RPGs, I would say go ahead, pick up the game, but maybe wait a few months for the price to go down. The game is a really fun mash-up, but the abrupt ending of the main storyline, and the endless end-game Episodes drove me up the wall. Since you’ve been forewarned now, the game might be more enjoyable. Now here’s your reward for reading through this review (as if the review weren’t reward enough)

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Review: Chocobo's Dungeon (Wii)

July 27, 2012 Reviews, Video Game Reviews Comments (0) 81

I recently picked up a Wii during a Gamestop sale (it was only $60, so I figured I might as well). Finding games to play on it for outside Mario, Zelda, and Metroid have been difficult, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo’s Dungeon sitting on a shelf at the store.ImageI’ve been a Final Fantasy Fan for as long as I have been playing games, and I figured Chocobo’s Dungeon couldn’t be any worse than Final Fantasy X-2 (which has a a special, awful place in my heart).

Gameplay: The first thing I noticed on the cover, is this game is intended for players ages 7 and up, which set up my expectations going into the game. I wasn’t going in to this experience looking for a fight against a boss like Ruby Weapon. Players control Chocobo, a small yellow chocobo,  and guide him through dungeons to collect memories. For each step Chocobo takes in a dungeon, an enemy is allowed to take another step. This does necessitate careful planning if you venture into an area with multiple enemies, as well as an awareness of the range of Chocobo’s attacks depending on what class he is currently employing. There are eight classes that can be unlocked throughout the game (natural, knight, white-mage, black-mage, dancer, dragoon, dark knight, scholar, thief, ninja) which should be fairly familiar to anyone who has played a Final Fantasy game in the past. Some classes are unlocked through natural progression of the story, and others must be unlocked through special missions and hidden quests.Image You can only level each class up to level 8, so there is no need to spend hours level-grinding in the game,  unless you are a completionist. That said, leveling up Chocobo’s classes is fairly easy, which is facilitated by being able to re-play dungeons that Chocobo has conquered in the past. Most of the dungeons are straightforward, Chocobo needs to navigate through each level of the dungeon until he reaches the bottom level. As the difficulty of the dungeon’s increase, so do the number of levels within each dungeon. Early dungeons are only five levels deep, while the final dungeon of the game is forty levels. In addition to typical dungeons, there are special dungeons. These side dungeons have special rules, for instance in one Chocobo only has 1 hp, and require more strategy and cunning to play through. Their addition to the game adds a way to take a fun break from the main dungeons in order to build your character and allow him access to new items and classes.  Overall, the gameplay is what I would call “finaly fantasy light”. There are random encounters, the combat is turned-based in its own way, but the level of difficulty is low, and the dungeons are bounded, finite, and easy to leave if a player is feeling overwhelmed. I thoroughly enjoyed this low-stress variety of Final Fantasy gameplay, and I had fun seeing Chocobo dressed up in the different classes. The game should also only take up 15-25 hours of time to finish the main storyline, so it doesn’t require a large chunk of time to enjoy. Overall the class, combat, and dungeon system is engaging, while not as frustrating as some Final Fantasy games can be.

Story: The story of Chocobo’s Dungeons centers on Chocobo and a Cid character as they search for Timeless Power. After finding the artifact, Chocobo and Cid are magically transported to the town of Lostime within the isle of Memoria. All of the town’s inhabitants are slowly losing their memories each time the town’s bell, the Bell of Oblivion rings. Chocobo is not affected by the bell,  and with the help of Shrima, a young white mage, and a magical infant from the sky, Rafaello, is able to enter people’s minds (in the form of dungeons) and unlock precious memories for each of them.Image

As more and more memories are unlocked, Chocobo begins to uncover the mystery of Memoria, and slowly learn of Rafaello’s origins. This ultimately leads to a calamity that Chocobo must face to save his friends and the townspeople. The story brings a solid narrative to the game, and unlocking new memories is made more enjoyable by the fact that you are learning new things about some loveable characters. The allure of unlocking more memories is an incentive for playing the mini-dungeons, which pay off in some interesting side stories. Again, this game is made for a younger audience than most Final Fantasy games, it does lack sweeping, vast, and interconnected story lines like previous  Final Fantasy games. While simplistic and at times predictable, the story is cohesive and melds well with the gameplay. My only complaint is that the player is forced to view the cut scenes when Chocobo unlocks a memory. While most are engaging, there are times when the memories were unexciting or repetitive.

Gender/Race/Sexuality: While this game does continue to position women as white mages, (you can look at an explanation of the trope here) the game is inclusive of both genders on an equal footing, with female characters represented as much or moreso than male characters. Race is a separate problem, and one that Square Enix has traditionally not dealt with well. Part of the problem is that Japan is composed of a homogenous population, and Japanese gaming companies often lack an understanding of race relations in other countries. While they have attempted to address this with characters like Barrett from FFVII and Sazh from FFXIII, Square Enix clearly still doesn’t understand quite how to address this issue, and tends to employ all-white casts of characters in many of its Final Fantasy games. Sexuality is not discussed within Chocobo’s dungeons, which makes sense as it is targeted towards younger audiences, but the relationships presented in the game are heterosexual. This is no different than any other Final Fantasy game currently in existence, unless you believe that Cloud and Barrett should belong together. Overall, while the game is problematic in its adherence to heterosexual norms and the lack of diverse races, the gender portrayals of the game seem positive, as many of the women Chocobo encounters are both empowered and non-sexualized.

To Play or Not to Play: I would recommend this to anyone that owns a Wii. Although the game will predominantly attract players that enjoy JRPG’s the gameplay and story are accessible enough to invite a wider variety of players. Also, the game is so old at this point that it is fairly cheap (10$) to pick up a used copy. So if you haven’t played Chocobo’s Dungeon yet, GO. PLAY. NOW.

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